Why No-Code Platforms Should Grant API Control Posted in Platforms Art Anthony August 17, 2021 We’ve written previously about the rise of low-code tools and highlighted some of the great no-code tools out there. The advantages of low-code/no-code platforms are pretty obvious. Namely, they allow those who don’t have a ton of development experience to build sites or services that they couldn’t otherwise do without professional help. But there’s a problem with no-code development: many relevant tools function in silos. And this can be a significant hurdle for codeless developers to overcome when they’re trying to expand beyond the constraints of the tool(s) they’re currently using. Plugins vs. Integrations and APIs Let’s say that you’ve built a website in WordPress. As well as being able to jump in and make edits directly, using PHP or HTML and CSS, there are countless plugins out there to add functionality to websites. We’ve noticed a trend in no-code development that sees the creators of tools in the space talk about integrations rather than plugins. The reason for that is probably two-fold. First, they’re aiming to get users’ minds away from their memories of janky WordPress plugins that break the whole site. Second, and more importantly, these connections are less likely to be put together by third-party developers and are often two-way collaborations between the tools or services in question. Why does that matter? Because it means that, in many cases, what you can do with no-code tools might be restricted by what their creators (and sanctioned integrations) allow. There is, however, a solution to this problem: unsurprisingly, given the usual subject of this blog, we’re talking about APIs. Low-code/no-code Development and API Access Many no-code services, including Webflow, do provide API access. In this case, their offering is “a HTTP JSON API and allows you to programmatically add, update, and delete items from the Webflow CMS, allowing you to connect external data sources to your Webflow sites.” In that respect, their API is more comprehensive than many of those offered by other low-code/no-code tools. If, indeed, they offer one at all. The big problem here is that, with the exception of tools like IFTTT, taking advantage of APIs usually requires a pretty rigorous knowledge of coding. This might leave citizen developers trying to take advantage of them in a low-code/no-code set up high and dry. There are services out there aiming to bridge this gap, such as NoCodeAPI. However, when you look at NoCodeAPI’s marketplace, you get a sense that implementation can be a little more limited than using code: words like “extract”, “get” and “convert” are common, with fewer blurbs talking about being able to push data or upload to the APIs in question. API Access and Programmatic Control In a piece of DevOps.com, Rick Veague writes that “analysts expect to see 65% of all application development taking place in low-code/no-code environments by 2024. But, it is the openness of APIs that will determine the success of this software.” In other words, a key factor in codeless development is the way services connect to each other. More often than not, that will be done with APIs. However, most APIs aren’t yet being built with no or low-code development in mind. But that may change in the years to come. Our own Bill Doerrfeld, for example, has written about deep programmatic control, i.e., making sure all of that relevant code, regardless of the development platform used, can be accessed under the hood. To return to an earlier example, “for those more technically inclined Webflow also offers a JSON-based API for building and updating CMS collections and entries.” In other words, citizen developers can take advantage of all the low-code/no-code stuff but pass the reins to a more experienced developer if further customization or integration is required. APIs and the Future of No-Code It’s difficult to imagine what the future of low-code/no-code development looks like because, relatively speaking, the space is still young. Services like appsmith, however, provide an interesting glimpse. With a service like this, users can “build admin panels, CRUD apps and workflows” up to 10x faster than they might usually be able to. One testimonial on the homepage outlines how someone was able to “build a single customer view tool that talked to Freshdesk, Fullstory, Chargebee, and Stripe. In 45 mins!” Spotify’s Leemay Nassery makes the great point that “if low-code solutions for API integration come to replace writing authentication code, parsing logic, and the other mundane aspects of writing code that integrates with an external service…the time saved could be transformative.” This will enable developers, she says, to “spend more time solving harder and potentially more interesting problems.” Sounds pretty transformative to us. Conclusion Whether or not other tools embrace low and no-code development to the extent that Veague, and plenty others, hope remains to be seen. We can be sure, however, that APIs will have a considerable part to play in the process.